Every divorce has a beginning and an end. Some marriages are successfully dissolved a mere weeks after the process is begun while others spend years winding through the courts. While an experienced attorney may be able to give a fairly good prediction of the course a divorce might take and can be indispensable in obtaining a favorable outcome for a party, there are no guarantees. Nevertheless, it’s always helpful to have a general overview of the process.
A divorce officially begins when one party (the Petitioner) files with the court a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (PDM). The PDM informs the court of the Petitioners’ desire to dissolve the marriage and gives grounds for why that should eventually be allowed. Once filed, it is the Petitioner’s responsibility to ensure their spouse (now the Respondent) receives notice of the filing. If needed, the PDM and Summons are served upon the responding spouse by the sheriff or a process server, but oftentimes service is waived for expediency.
Once the Respondent receives notice, he or she has 30 days in Illinois to file an Appearance and Answer to the PDM with the court. In other words, to tell the court they will participate in the case. If an attorney is retained, it is the attorney who files on behalf of the spouse.
What happens next depends on a number of factors: the existence and complexity of contested issues (custody, property, etc), the parties’ ability to work together, and quality of representation, to name a few. Eventually, if the parties cannot reach an agreement on their own, the case will move forward to trial and a judge will decide contested issues such as property split, maintenance, and custody. Once the judge has made a decision, it may still take weeks or even months for the final judgment to be drafted and entered. If, however, the parties are able to agree on terms, agreements will be drawn up, signed by the spouses, and entered with the court at the Prove-up date. This is the day a marriage is officially deemed dissolved.